Norwegian aluminium producer Norsk Hydro's (NHY.OL) chief executive, Eivind Reiten, will step down at the end of March and will be succeeded by Svein Richard Brandtzaeg, the company announced on Monday.

Reiten, a former oil minister, has led Norsk Hydro for eight years, during which he carried out major structural changes, including the spinoff of the fertilisers business in 2004 and sale of its oil and gas operations to Statoil in 2007.

The board regrets that Eivind Reiten has decided to resign, but has respect and understanding for his decision in light of the long period he has led the company, Norsk Hydro's chairman of the board Terje Vareberg said in a statement.

Brandtzaeg, age 51, has held numerous management positions at Norsk Hydro and is now head of its Aluminium Products business area.

Brandtzaeg has uncommonly broad expertise and very solid experience from Norwegian and international aluminium business, and he has shown himself to be a strong and extremely dynamic leader throughout 23 years in Hydro, Vareberg said.

The change in CEOs comes at a difficult time for the aluminium industry, as the global financial crisis and economic downturn have knocked demand for metals around the globe.

Norsk Hydro shares fell 4.5 percent to 28.65 crowns by 0807 GMT, underperforming a 0.7 fall in the Oslo bourse benchmark index . (Reporting by John Acher; Editing by Rupert Winchester)

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